February 10, 2023
What will end with the COVID public health emergency
Last week the Biden Administration announced that the federal COVID public health emergency (PHE) will expire on May 11. While the recent Omnibus law will lessen the impact, the graphic below highlights several important provisions for providers which are currently set to end with the PHE. The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) will no longer provide hospitals with a 20 percent inpatient payment boost for treating traditional Medicare patients hospitalized with COVID. The cost of COVID testing and treatments will shift from the federal government to consumers as private and public insurers can charge for tests and care, while the uninsured will bear the full costs of COVID vaccines and treatment. Medicare’s current flexibilities around skilled nursing facility (SNF) admissions will end, as it reinstates the three-day prior hospitalization rule for SNF transfers, and ceases paying for SNF stays beyond 100 days. The end of the PHE also means that providers will no longer be able to prescribe controlled substances virtually, without an initial in-person evaluation. This is especially significant given the volume of mental health and substance abuse treatment that shifted to telehealth across the course of the pandemic. While the Drug Enforcement Agency has been working on regulations to address this, a proposed rule has not yet been released. Together, these changes amount to lower payments for health systems, COVID cost exposure for patients, and fewer flexibilities for providers managing care, even as thousands of patients are still being hospitalized with COVID each week.